Exclusive: Canada mulling multi-billion dollar aid package for virus-hit industries, source says

Travellers wear masks at Pearson airport arrivals, shortly after Toronto Public Health received notification of Canada's first presumptive confirmed case of coronavirus, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada is weighing a multi-billion dollar aid package for industries hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, such as the tourism, energy and hospitality sectors, a source directly familiar with the matter said on Friday.

Such an aid package would help Canada’s 10 provinces take their own action to provide relief for families, workers and employers, said the source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday said his Liberal government would spent an initial C$1 billion to fight the outbreak and made clear he was ready to do more.

The source said government officials were “talking in the many billions” and that the total value of an aid package could be up to C$20 billion across the country.

Some Bay Street economists in Toronto say that while an aid package might not prevent a recession, it would help ease the economic pain.

Ottawa was also open to the idea of supporting major airlines such as Air Canada AC.TO and privately held WestJet, said the source.

Firms in Canada’s already-struggling energy sector have slashed investment as panic over the outbreak spreads and oil prices sink as Saudi Arabia ramps up production.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday said oil and gas firms would soon start laying off workers and insisted Ottawa provide financial help.

No one in the office of Finance Minister Bill Morneau was immediately available for comment. CTV television said earlier that Morneau was due to speak to the media on Friday.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler